As varied as the activities and opportunities are aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines' Constellation, a week-long Caribbean cruise does make a few stops along the way, and it's benerally worthwhile to get off the ship and check out the ports of call.
Here's a quick rundown on the stops made during a December cruise:
CASA DE CAMPO
This resort area on the coast of the Dominican Republic east of Santo Domingo covers 7,000 acres, and its white-sand beaches, golf courses, and tennis courts draw well-heeled vacationers from all over the world. Its profile was raised considerably several years ago after it was used as a backdrop for the photos in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
During our stop there, we attended an evening performance of "Kandela," billed as a Latin extravaganza of music and dance. Performed in a sprawling, 5,000-seat outdoor stone amphitheater, the 90-minute show featured nearly 50 performers in colorful costumes whirling around feverishly in a high-energy show, capped off by a fireworks finale.
Overall, it was an enjoyable performance, but some portions of the show seemed awkwardly out of place. The featured singers were great when singing in Spanish, but when they tried to make it through a series of songs in English, the results were uneven at best. Hearing a Latin singer crooning the Lennon-McCartney classic "Yesterday" - which instead came out "Jesser-day" - was the source of much mirth for days afterward.
We stopped in the bustling coastal town of Bridgetown, the island's capital city, where schoolchildren walked down busy Broad Street in their school uniforms.
Barbados, the easternmost island of the West Indies, has been producing sugar cane and attracting tourists for centuries. In the mid-1700s, George Washington brought his half-brother, Lawrence, there for several weeks for his health. (Unfortunately for the future president, he contracted smallpox during his visit, and it marked his face for life.)
The island nation, which gained its independence from Britain in 1966, still has its own Trafalgar Square, and like its namesake in London, it features a statue of Lord Horatio Nelson, the British naval hero.
Among the activities there are tours of rum distilleries, snorkeling or scuba diving among dozens of offshore shipwrecks, and lots of sightseeing tours.
Our visit there was plugged in to replace a scheduled stop in Grenada, which was still being rebuilt and repaired following heavy hurricane damage sustained earlier in the year.
But the volcanic, mountainous island, less developed than many of its Caribbean neighbors, turned out to be a great place to explore the outdoors. We rode an aerial tram through the lush rain forest that covers much of the island's interior, spotting giant ferns and wild orchids growing from the trees.
We also got to go swimming in the icy waters of TiTou Gorge, where a short but strenuous swim brought us to a cave with a gorgeous waterfall inside. On the way back, a hot springs among the boulders at one side of the gorge provided a welcome bit of warmth in the chilly water.
If we'd had more time, we would have searched out what one guide told us was the island's prime attraction: Boiling Lake. More than just a colorful name, this lake in the mountains is a natural cauldron where the water is said to approach 200 degrees.
Maybe next time.
At most of the ports we visited, locals approached us trying to hawk cheap souvenirs or take us somewhere in a taxi. But on this small island east of St. Thomas, we couldn't walk three steps without being accosted by a disheveled guy in a floral shirt, gripping a dog-eared, laminated map of the island and shouting, "Take you to the beach? I give you best price!"
Once we got a few blocks away from the cruise ship docks in St. John's, we were able to explore the cobblestone streets and little shops of the city. Not far away is English Harbour, a historically themed area of shops, restaurants, and hotels that's a little like a smaller version of Williamsburg, Va.
Since our visit was a few weeks before Christmas, there was a holiday spirit in the air - but with an island twist. On a street corner we passed a woman who was balancing a beer bottle on her forehead and high-steppin' it to a lively calypso version of "Silent Night."
Oh, and here's a little tidbit: If you want to win an island bar bet some time, challenge a frequent traveler to pronounce Antigua. Odds are he'll say it like "An-tee-gwah." That's wrong. It's "An-tee-ga."
I know. Our taxi driver told me so.
Part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas is considered the shopping capital of the Caribbean, and its harbor in Charlotte Amalie is among the world's most scenic, with colorful rooftops spreading up into the nearby hills.
The duty-free shopping is what brings lots of people here, and there are astounding numbers of jewelry stores - around 200, according to a guy manning a visitors booth - as well as countless craft, clothing, and liquor shops on the island to cheerfully separate tourists from their money.
In centuries gone by, the island was a base for the pirates who raided merchant ships, and local businesses still capitalize on the pirate lore today, with T-shirts, hats, and skull-and-bones trinkets for sale to tourists. The Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise takes passengers out on a wooden schooner for a raucous afternoon of rum punch and Jimmy Buffet-style music.
It was also on St. Thomas that we found the answer to the age-old question - "What does David Carradine do when he's not popping up in movies like Kill Bill Volume 2?"
Answer: He appears with his band, The Soul Dogs, for a weekend gig at the St. Thomas Hard Rock Cafe, with tickets selling for $25 each.
And we've got the poster to prove it.
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